Narrator: Deryn Edwards
Published by Sourcebooks Fire
Published on 29 August 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Source: my local library
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I Needed to Win.They Needed to Die.
Sallot Leon is a thief, and a good one at that. But gender fluid Sal wants nothing more than to escape the drudgery of life as a highway robber and get closer to the upper-class—and the nobles who destroyed their home.
When Sal steals a flyer for an audition to become a member of The Left Hand—the Queen’s personal assassins, named after the rings she wears—Sal jumps at the chance to infiltrate the court and get revenge.
But the audition is a fight to the death filled with clever circus acrobats, lethal apothecaries, and vicious ex-soldiers. A childhood as a common criminal hardly prepared Sal for the trials. And as Sal succeeds in the competition, and wins the heart of Elise, an intriguing scribe at court, they start to dream of a new life and a different future, but one that Sal can have only if they survive.
I don’t know what happened. I was listening to this book, and it was just kind of average, and then all of a sudden it was over and I wanted more.
This book is about the audition process for a gender fluid character named Sal, also Auditioner Twenty-Three, to have a shot at becoming the queen’s newest assassin in her 4-person band of deadly assassins, spies, and bodyguards, known as the Left Hand and each named after one of the four rings she wears. Sal is auditioning for the position of Opal.
This book largely reminded me of The Hunger Games, since the auditioners were encouraged to kill each other – but only with no witnesses, and without hurting anyone else. It is set in a land where magic no longer exists, although it once did, and destroyed the nation Sal is from.
I liked Sal. I didn’t find them too cocky and entitled, like a lot of ‘bad-ass’ assassin-type characters I am finding in YA. They know they have weaknesses like archery and poisons, and they are also not the best fighter; but winning the competition is not about being the best fighter, and Sal is quick-witted, daring, and agile, and knows how to use those qualities to succeed. The one point of Sal’s personality that I didn’t like was their insistence that they were the next Opal. I mean, it’s all very good to be confident – at least they weren’t entitled and cocky about it – but I feel that the stakes could have been a little higher if perhaps Sal didn’t already assume they were going to win, especially against some really tough competition. This led to me sometimes feeling that the book was a bit ‘meh’, because I was finding it hard – at times – to care if Sal was going to win when it seemed certain they would.
On the other hand, I really liked how Sal worked so hard for everything they achieved and nothing really came down to pure luck, or was conveniently handed to them. In fact, the whole competition was just a means to an end: Sal believed wholeheartedly that when they became Opal, they would be in a position to be able to avenge murder the people responsible for the genocide of their people in a war not ten years past. This actually turned the novel from a Hunger Games style competition into a revenge plot, which I really liked.
Another thing I found interesting and original was the use of masks. The Left Hand and the auditioners all had to wear masks… however these did not get very good descriptions. I didn’t know if they were executioner masks, Venetian ball masks, Phantom of the Opera style masks… I just didn’t have a very good idea of them.
Sal’s gender-fluidity is addressed several times. It’s part of their identity, and I think it was nicely and respectably handled. I was not a big fan of the romance. I didn’t find any chemistry between Sal and Elise, thought their tentative probing around their attraction to each other was kind of cute. In fact, I thought there was more chemistry between Sal and their servant, Maud, and was half expecting Sal to end up with them, or maybe even have a love triangle.
The ending of the novel is really what cemented me as wanting to read its sequel. I’m really not into books that cut off plot resolutions and leave those until the next book, but this book nicely wrapped up its main plot and left the secondary, overarching plot for the sequel, which I approve of. It also didn’t hurt that my library had the audiobook for Book 2 ready and waiting for me as soon as I finished. The narrator was solid, with different voices for different characters, though chose a really annoying voice for the character of Ruby that I found quite jarring.
Sourcebooks Fire is definitely solidifying its place as one of my all-time favourite publishers. They have consistently produced excellent novels I have really enjoyed that may be a little less mainstream than big 5 publishing houses are prepared to invest in.